Congratulations to Micheal Teal the winner of March E-Muse draw for a $50.00 gift certificate on Amazon. To be eligible to win, simply subscribe to my monthly E-muse newsletter at firstname.lastname@example.org to share my ramblings on gardening, writing and Life 101. Events, updates and lots of Spam-free fun! Have fun picking out which books to buy, Micheal. So many pages, so little time.
16 Mar 2009 1 Comment
For all my writing friends who are draggin their heels waiting for spring to arrive, here’s a wonderful list of the best blogs with tips for writers. It includes my guest author this past week, Rick Blechta, on Shadows Fall N Friends.
10 Mar 2009 Leave a comment
This short story was inspired when I was walking along the river in spring and watching the ice break up. There was a story in the newspaper about the spring flood washing out graveyards. I started to wonder what it would be like to spot a coffin floating down the river. Hope you enjoy this excerpt from Roads Unravelling.
“She’s old. No good for nothin’. Chuck her in the river,” Aaron mumbled.
Maggie turned. Aaron, her brother, stood behind her on the riverbank, bracing the back of the old church pew she sat on. He stared at the Kennebecasis. Spring thaw had arrived unannounced that morning and now the ice was dissolving right before their eyes.
Aaron dropped his chin and fixed her with a defiant look. His eyes were the same shade of green as their father’s, Denny’s, had been, only Aaron’s held a puzzling, foreign quality. “She’s old, no good. Toss her in the river.” He stepped back and planted both hands on his hips.
A stinging started behind Maggie’s eyes. She pulled one hand into the sleeve of her sweater and scrubbed her nose.
“Thar she blows!” Aaron slapped his thigh and grinned. He looked more like a lad of ten than a strapping man of forty-two.
Aaron was what Dr. Peterson at Centracare had labelled “mentally retarded” back in the thirties. His favourite pastimes were watching cartoons and listening to Golden Oldie record collections. Out of the blue, he’d suddenly spout Pat Boone lyrics or cuss words, ripe enough to redden any sailor’s grizzle. Maggie liked to press her nose against the window of Aaron’s world and try to figure out what was going on behind the murky pane.
“Thar she blows!” Aaron repeated, jumping up and down.
Even without her glasses, Maggie could see the oblong box floating in the distance. She wondered if it was an abandoned ice fishing shack, then realized it was too narrow. Maybe it was a garbage box. Gil Darby lived down the road, and he was always building something and bragging about it over coffee in the church parlour. But it didn’t look like one of Gil’s creations.
“Stubborn old bitch,” Aaron muttered.
Maggie’s eyes lit up. She understood Aaron’s babble now. One winter their father, Denny, had cursed a dory he’d been repairing in the garage. When the hull split wider than a ripe pea shell, Denny had washed his hands of her.
“Stubborn old bitch. No good for nothin’. Toss her in the river,” he’d grumbled, tying it to the back of the skidoo and dragging it onto the ice. In the spring, he’d brought Aaron and a six-pack outside to witness the sight of it slipping away forever. There was nothing unusual about this. River residents often left obsolete items on the ice: tires, broken appliances, scrap wood. Once, after one quarrel too many, Gil had threatened to tie his wife, Tilly, to a chair, and drag her out.
“Straight to Hades,” Aaron had mumbled the day the dory went down. “Toot-toot-Tootsie. Goodbye.”
But whatever was floating on the Kennebecasis today was not a boat. Definitely not.
“What is it?” Aaron asked.
She stood and shrugged, pushing grey curls out of her eyes. Then she jerked her binoculars into viewing position.
The box floated half-a-kilometre upstream. By all rights, it should have been heading in the opposite direction, toward Saint John, but it appeared to be caught in one of the many tidal currents threading through the river. She squinted. It almost looked like–but, no, Maggie dismissed that idea. It couldn’t be. Her stomach tightened.
“It’s too far away. Can’t tell what it is.” She dropped back onto the pew. Aaron’s mounting excitement was beginning to grate. She turned and, bracing her hands on the back of the bench, rose on her knees to kiss his flushed cheek.
“Go back to your puzzle,” she urged. “I’ll call you when it gets closer.”
He yanked his ear lobe and ambled towards the sun deck where the card table stood.
Maggie closed her eyes and welcomed the sun’s warmth on her face. Chickadees chirped overhead. Her limbs relaxed while her fingertips stroked the pew. It had weathered to silk since the day Denny had placed it under the oak.
Maggie had been only ten years old when he had come home from an auction in Fredericton and unloaded it from the back of the pickup. She remembered the day clearly. While Aaron had crawled through the dirt, chewing on a heel of bread, Denny had flicked his chin toward the Kennebecasis. His emerald eyes brimmed with pride.
“That’s life’s pulse beating, right there, Maggie, right outside our door.”
She’d watched, spellbound, as he demonstrated every ounce of tenacity in the Clare County blood that had brought their Irish ancestors to New Brunswick over a century ago. Red-faced and grunting, Denny–with all the finesse of a pitbull terrier–shoved, wriggled and hurled the bench across the grass. Then he plopped down, folding both arms across his chest, drinking in the sight of the river below.
“Life’s pulse, Maggie. The answers and the questions all tumblin’ together. God’s great telephone line. Sit now…and have a listen.” So Maggie sat, bewildered by his unprecedented talk of God.
After Emily, his wife, had died, Denny had never gone back to church.
Maggie’s mum had been napping in the back of their hardware store on Main Street when the fire broke out. It wasn’t until after the man from the newspaper took pictures that a grim-faced fireman motioned Denny aside. It was the only time Maggie ever saw her father break down. She wrapped her arms around his timber-sturdy legs and cried too.
At nine, Maggie couldn’t decipher the intricacies of grown-up grief. The word ‘tragedy’ meant seeing a ‘For Sale’ sign staked in the lawn of their home in Saint John. Tragedy meant waking up in the middle of the night with an icy snake squeezing her stomach. When the ‘Sold’ label appeared, Maggie held her breath. She waited, trying hard not to think too much.
They soon moved, Denny, Maggie and Aaron, not to the poor house as she had feared, but to Grandpa’s summer cottage called ‘Galway Grange’ (he had christened it after a round of Guinness one Sunday). Maggie loved the place– with its tumbling roses, cool bowers, and lip-puckering crab-apples–instantly. The property came to resemble a wind-blown jumble sale; tables overflowed with the second-hand goods Denny made it his business to buy and sell.
Maggie could still picture herself sitting on the church pew the day Denny brought it home. She recalled the watching and listening and waiting. Her whole body had tingled when she’d realized, with astonishment, that the church pew felt perfectly at home on the bank of the Kennebecasis.
Watching the river was like trying to decipher the plot of a silent film. She had had to stretch some muscle in her brain that she never had to use before. Denny had insisted that the trick was not to strain too hard, but to sit back and let whatever was out there reel itself in.
Maggie’s smile faded with the recollection. It was so many years ago, yet the images remained, as dazzling as the white sheets strung on the clothes line, flapping against the clear blue sky. Denny had passed away thirty odd years ago, when Aaron was eleven. Maggie wasn’t a girl anymore. She was fifty years old. Had turned fifty this winter.
When she had confronted all fifty candles on the cake–and she had had to put them all on, at Aaron’s insistence–something dark had taken root inside her, and, try as she might, she could not shake it loose. The magazines at Sobey’s checkout with their cheery banners–Fifty and Fabulous in 1973 or Fantastic at 50–only made her feel worse.
“She’s old. No good for nothin’. Toss her in the river.”
Maggie knew that if she turned around she would see Aaron waving again at the box in the river. She forced herself to look up. It was closer now. Directly in front of them. The raw sting crept back into her throat.
Shit, shit, shit.
“What is it, Maggie? What is that?” Aaron asked.
“I don’t know,” she lied. “Here. You look.” She passed the binoculars over her shoulder without turning around.
“A rectangle. One. Ar-ar-ar. The Count on Sesame Street says, ‘One rectangle’.”
Maggie hunched forward and pressed a knuckle into her teeth.
“Of course. Of course, it’s a rectangle.” Maggie turned quickly and forced a smile. She lay her hand over his and squeezed his fingers. “Hurry. Hurry now. Go inside and get the camera and I’ll take a picture.”
Aaron trotted off and stomped up the stairs. He disappeared into the porch. She knew he would love the idea of taking a picture with the camera she had given him for Easter, knew that he would be distracted by the tea biscuits cooling on the kitchen counter, that he would stop to eat one or two or six, that he would forget to come back.
Maggie pressed her fingers against her eyes. But it was no use. She could still see Aaron’s rectangle floating in her mind’s eye. She couldn’t run away anymore. The river wouldn’t let her.
Maggie opened her eyes and watched the object floating upstream. It was, she admitted, a coffin. Dark and sleek. Floating up the Kennebecasis River. Heading towards the ferry. Not just any coffin, mind you. No. Maggie understood, with a fey certainty that was irrefutable, that it was her coffin.
Abruptly, it thumped against a deadhead and lurched to the left. Maggie’s coffin hovered, then the rear swung round, and it continued on its way, floating serenely past the bend and out of sight.
03 Mar 2009 Leave a comment
As winter digs in its heels, I’m craving positive inspiration. There are a few writers who move me deeply: Julia Cameron, Oriah Mountain Dreamer and Marianne Williamson.
I particularly like Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s book The Invitation:
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.